When feminism’s wonders aren’t for all women
Image distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
The new Wonder Woman film has evoked fulsome acclamations from many American and British women writers: “Wonder Woman is a masterpiece of subversive feminism,” “Wonder Woman is the feminist hero we’ve been waiting for,” “This is revolutionary,” “I cried through the fight scenes in Wonder Woman.”
In this flurry of rhapsodizing, actress Gal Gadot’s support for Israel’s violence against the women, children, and men of Palestine has received minimal attention as a matter for feminist concern — even as other hairy issues, like whether Gadot should have left her armpits unshaved for the part, have generated significant debate and controversy.
In July 2014, while Israel was pummelling Gaza in Operation Protective Edge (its third major military offensive on the Strip since 2008), newly anointed Wonder Woman Gadot posted a message of encouragement to the Israel Defence Forces on her Facebook page: “I am sending my love and prayers to my fellow Israeli citizens. Especially to all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas, who are hiding like cowards behind women and children … We shall overcome!!! Shabbat Shalom! #weareright #freegazafromhamas #stopterror #coexistence #iloveidf.”
The assault on Gaza that Gadot expressed such enthusiasm for killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, two-thirds of whom were civilians; 299 of the dead were women and 551 were children. (Palestinian forces killed sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six Israeli civilians.)
This bellicose exercise in “#coexistence” injured 11,000 Gazans and destroyed 18,000 homes, displacing 20,000 families. It demolished schools, hospitals, water and sanitation systems, farms, and Gaza’s only power plant — devastation that remains in large part unrepaired because of Israel’s decade-long illegal blockade of Gaza, which restricts basic construction items, such as wooden planks, asphalt, bricks, and pipes from entering the territory.
“Israeli forces brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes, displaying callous indifference to the carnage caused,” said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
Gadot’s assertion that Hamas was “hiding like cowards behind women and children” attempted to shift the blame for this carnage onto the shoulders of its Palestinian victims. “Accusing the enemy of using human shields helps validate the claim that the death of ‘untargeted civilians’ is merely collateral damage,” write professors of international law Neve Gordon and Nicola Perugini. “When all civilians are potential human shields … then all enemy civilians become killable.”
Never mind that many of Protective Edge’s civilian casualties were not in fact providing cover to any legitimate military target (according to Human Rights Watch), that international law prohibits disproportionate attacks on civilians, even if they are being used to shield military objects, and that Israel itself has a history of forcing Palestinians to act as human shields (as documented by Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem).
Gadot, like the Israeli military, tried to deflect the responsibility for Israel’s atrocities onto Palestinians’ “cowardly” willingness to supposedly sacrifice their own women and children. This is, in some ways, an echo of the hypocritical logic communicated by the character Gadot portrays onscreen: Wonder Woman condemns the militarism of others, while liberally employing violence herself in the name of countering the barbarisms of those cast as the bad guys.
The reaction to Wonder Woman highlights the perversity and partiality of a feminism that celebrates the cinematic representation of a fictional, purportedly anti-war female superhero, but ignores the non-fictional women (and men) who experience the real brutalities of war and occupation.
Such a feminism is neither truly “subversive” nor “revolutionary.” It claims the mantle of speaking for the rights of all women, but champions primarily the interests and perspectives of the relatively privileged. It sheds solipsistic tears of joy to see a Hollywood actress do fight scenes in a multimillion-dollar blockbuster movie, but does not grieve for the thousands of women suffering the effects of military aggression justified by that same actress: the women of Gaza who have lost family and homes, who live with severe water shortages and daily electricity outages, who care for children injured and traumatized by war while being injured and traumatized themselves.
These women are not waiting for Gadot’s Wonder Woman to save them. They are already engaged in superheroic resistance to forces of militarism, with or without adulation from feminists in the West.
Azeezah Kanji is a legal analyst based in Toronto.
This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star.